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Few polls ahead of early voting states. TRANSCRIPT: 12/27/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Jonathan Lemire, Joyce Vance, Gordon Chang, Basil Smikle, PhilElliott, Jeremy Peters

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST:  All right, David K. Johnson, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Always appreciate your insights.

That`s tonight`s last word.  I`m Ayman Mohyeldin.  "The 11th Hour" starts right now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight we are just days away from the start of what is shaping up to be a month like no other, the unprecedented impeachment trial of a president who is actively seeking re-election and what the impact will be on the State of the Union a little more than five weeks away, what you must know about the strategies for Trump and the Democrats.

Plus, back to fire and fury?  North Korea continues its provocative behavior despite the praise from President Trump.  Does the relationship change in 2020?

And why the race in Iowa is more mysterious than it`s been in decades as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on this Friday night.

Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams.  Day 1072 of the Trump administration and the political landscape will soon shift dramatically for this White House.  The first few weeks of the year will pose critical challenges for President Trump.

2020 is just days away and the president is heading into the new year amid the biggest crisis of his presidency.  He is facing an impeachment trial in the United States Senate.  And tonight, senators are still awaiting the actual articles of impeachment from the House.

Speaker Pelosi says she needs to know details about the trial process before she transmits those articles.  Today, Pelosi sent out this tweet, "President Trump abused his power for his own personal gain."  Hours later, Trump reacted with this, "So interesting to see Nancy Pelosi demanding fairness from Senate majority leader McConnell when she presided over the most unfair hearing in the history of the United States Congress."  Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer are pushing for McConnell to subpoena witnesses and documents for a Senate trial.

Their efforts are getting an assist from a group called Republicans for the Rule of Law which released this ad aimed at Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican who`s up for re-election in 2020.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Key witnesses in the Ukraine scandal must testify in the Senate impeachment trial.  These witnesses include Rudy Giuliani.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What you just described is a quid pro quo.

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  There`s going to be political influence in foreign policy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Rudy Giuliani delivered Ukraine files to Mike Pompeo.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A lawyer for John Bolton says that his client has new information on these meetings with Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Call Senator Collins and tell her these witnesses must testify.


KORNACKI:  But some House Democrats want to make sure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the main focus of the pressure to call witnesses.


REP. MARK POCAN (D-WI):  All the people that Donald Trump has said that can profess his innocence, he hasn`t let come before Congress.  We can help use this as leverage to make the Senate do the right thing.  Mitch McConnell already said that he`s working hand in hand with the White House on this.  He`s not impartial juror.  That`s, again, breaking the rules that exist.


KORNACKI:  And impeachment trial would get under way just as Trump escalates his fight for a second term.  He`s set to launch an evangelicals for Trump coalition in Miami one week from tonight.  That`s on January 3rd.  And then hold a rally six days later in Toledo, Ohio.

While we`ve heard Trump trying out versions of a message based on keeping America great or promising voters that the best is yet to come, in recent weeks he has used impeachment and investigations into his conduct to try to strike a chord with voters.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Our opponents have spent every waking minute of the last three years trying to overthrow the election of 2016 and at a minimum to sabotage the election of 2020.  The radical Democrats are trying to overturn the last election because they know that they cannot win the next election.  After three years of sinister witch hunts, hoaxes, scams, tonight the House Democrats are trying to nullify the ballots of tens of millions of patriotic Americans.


KORNACKI:  There is also a chance that the Iowa caucuses, which will take place on Monday, February 3rd, may collide with a Senate trial of President Trump.  NBC News reports that some Trump campaign officials are concerned about the impact of impeachment on voters that they have dubbed disengagers or those who, "haven`t been regularly attending rallies, didn`t vote for Republicans in the 2018 midterms, and haven`t necessarily responded positively to campaign outreach in the last three years."

Today, Bernie Sanders seemed to indicate that his campaign is aware that some of Trump`s voters might be up for grabs.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If you want to beat Trump, you`re going to need a large voter turnout, and I think our campaign is that campaign.


KORNACKI:  One day after the upcoming Iowa caucuses on February 4th, Trump is set to deliver his State of the Union Address.  We have seen this before.  In January 1999, Bill Clinton delivered his State of the Union Address while his impeachment trial was underway, but he did not mention his trial at all during his 77-minute speech.

Trump, however, has been more than willing to discuss his impeachment and to openly question it.


TRUMP:  I`m the first person to ever get impeached and there`s no crime.  Like, I feel guilty.  You know what they call it?  Impeachment lite.  It`s impeachment lite.  That`s why you know with Richard Nixon, I just see it as a very dark era.  Very dark, very, oh, you don`t even like to think.  I don`t know about you, but I`m having a good time.  It`s crazy.  So, I`m not worried.  I`m not worried.  Because it`s always good when you don`t do anything wrong you get impeached.  That may be a record that will last forever.


KORNACKI:  Here for our leadoff discussion on a Friday night, Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, Beth Fouhy NBC News Senior Politics Editor, and former U.S. attorney Joyce Vance who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor.  Welcome to all of you.

Beth, let me start with you.  That`s the president from a little bit more about two weeks ago we`re hearing there.  We`ve been seeing him mainly on Twitter the last couple of days, going after Nancy Pelosi in particular, very aggressive on there.  The Democrats, Nancy Pelosi included, in declining for now to transmit these articles to the Senate.

One of the things we`ve been told is they basically think this can get under Donald Trump`s skin provoke a reaction in him that might give them leverage.  Is this the reaction they were looking for at all or is this just par for the course from Donald Trump?

BETH FOUHY, NBC NEWS SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR:  Yes, he`s making it very, very personal about Nancy Pelosi, there`s no question about it.  I mean, of course, it is very much under his skin.  He`s been, you know, he`s -- you know, how many tweets, several dozen since the Christmas vacation began, you know, specifically about this.  It`s very much bothering him.

And on top of that, this is all going to collide with the Democrats getting under way really in earnest in Iowa and New Hampshire.  You know, we`re only about 40 days away from the Iowa caucuses and Trump, you know, what`s the expression, you know, he wants to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.  He`s going to inject himself right into that race.  He already has.

I mean, the whole reason he`s been impeached is because of the outreach to the Ukrainian president about vice president -- former Vice President Biden and wanting to get dirt on Biden and his son Hunter.  So, he`s already, you know, fully engaged in the presidential campaign there.

He`s, you know, gone after Pocahontas, Elizabeth Warren, he`s gone after Crazy Bernie, he`s, you know, trying to make this, you know, race about him and essentially it probably will be.  It is going to be a referendum on Donald Trump and that is going to be overhanging the entire activity out there in Iowa, not to mention the fact that we`ve got the Senate trial coming up eventually and five of the members of the presidential field are going to be jurors in that trial.

KORNACKI:  So, John, it looks like the president will be at Mar-a-Lago into the New Year.  What is -- what`s going on behind the scenes there as we talk about all the impeachment drama here in public?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  To this point, he`s largely stayed out of sight.  The first week of the vacation he`s dedicated mostly to golf and Twitter.  Next week, we expect him to ramp up some activities, including that event in Miami you mentioned to start this evangelical coalition, sort of in response to that rather scathing op-ed in that evangelical newspaper, Christianity Today, from last week which really stung the president since the evangelicals are certainly a significant part of his base.

There had been some talk at the Senate trial had been believe might have started on the 6th or 7th of January, the president might cut short his vacation and get back to Washington ahead of that.  We now don`t expect that to be the case because it doesn`t look like this is going to start that week.

This is something as we play in the clip there, the two things to be true at once in terms of the president`s response to impeachment.  On one hand, it`s personally, it infuriates him.  He knows this is the first line of his obituary going forward.  He will forever be a president who was impeached even if he worked to re-election again.

At the same time, he`s trying to trivialize it, you saw that, impeachment lite.  Trying to suggest I didn`t commit any crime here.  He`s not participating in the process unlike the Clinton and Nixon White Houses where he`s just openly defying subpoenas, not supplying witnesses and so on.

And he`s also really trying to turn it into to an us versus them argument.  He`s trying to make impeachment not about a referendum on his actions as president but rather claiming it`s the Democrats making judgments about him as a person and also his supporters.  He was striking the Republicans in debate for impeachment two weeks ago.  He used the word hate over and over, the Democrats hate you, they hate you, they hate the deplorables as they say, and they`re really trying use this, try to inflame their base, try to inspire them including the 8 million voters who turned out for Trump in 2016 but didn`t vote in the 2018 midterms, thinking this could be what motivates them to go to the polls again in 2020.

Just as an aside, 72 hours in February, we`re going to have the Super Bowl in the Sunday, Iowa caucus on Monday, and then State of the Union on Tuesday, with perhaps an impeachment verdict as well.

KORNACKI:  And seven days after that State of the Union, the New Hampshire primaries.  So it continues without a break there.

Joyce Vance, I guess we have to preface this by saying, if there is a Senate trial, it contours of which to be determined.  But if there is a Senate trial, it would, of course, be the chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, who has the duty of presiding over it.  I know there`s some conversation there about what that role would look like, if that is a more ceremonial role, maybe as we saw with William Rehnquist back in 1999 with the Clinton impeachment or if he does decide to take a more active role.  What could you expect from Roberts in a trial?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER US ATTORNEY:  I don`t think we`ll see Chief Justice Roberts take an activist role.  He, after all, reveres Justice Rehnquist, who famously said that when it came to impeachment, he said, I did nothing in particular but I did it very well.

I think we`ll say that same sort of an approach from Chief Justice Roberts.  He`ll be more of a custodian than he will at trial judge.  And even if he were to take some sort of a more activist role, perhaps trying to interject some of the fairness concerns that Democrats will raise, it would only take a vote of 51 senators to overturn any decision that he makes.  So the chief justice will be well aware of this and I think he`ll use his power very sparingly.

KORNACKI:  In terms of that question of if there`s a trial, Beth, then if there is a trial, what that trial would like in the Senate, that`s obviously the source of a standoff right now.  We played a bit of that ad, the sort of Republican group by Republicans for the Rule of Law is running trying to get Susan Collins trying to bring her toward the Democratic side on that question of the rules there, or maybe ultimately on the question of Trump`s fate.

I`m curious how much pressure really politically could be brought to bear from that side on somebody like Collins, somebody like Cory Gardner, somebody like Martha McSally.  I know we always hear they`re up for re- election in difficult states in 2020.  But they all have to get through Republican primaries to even get to the fall.  Is there a scenario, realistically, where you could see them casting a dramatic vote against Trump given the reality of facing Republican primary?

FOUHY:  It seems like they can get -- they can certainly say we`d like to hear from some witnesses.  That doesn`t seem super politically risky to me.  However, of course, in this day of age in which we live, you know, you`re either with Trump or you`re against him.  I mean, it`s very binary in that world.  So you can`t really envy any of those senators you mentioned, Cory Gardner, Susan Collins, because they are running for re-election next year in this very fraught situation.

What was interesting this week, though, as you know, is Lisa Murkowski who often kind of works in concert with Susan Collins and some of the other moderates, you know, raised her hand and said she had some real concerns about how Mitch McConnell had, you know, thrown his weight in with the defense -- with President Trump`s defense team and said that she had some concerns about that.  Whether that indicates that she`s willing to make a break is really significant because she could bring Collins along with her.

Murkowski is not up for re-election this time but the two of them tend to work in concert and she could, you know, basically hold hands and jump with Susan Collins and, you know, do something that is the right thing to do in terms of getting through this trial with witnesses and with evidence but not super jeopardize her politically.

KORNACKI:  I wonder Joyce, too, that there`s news tonight from the campaign trail, Joe Biden, the former vice president, he was asked today, in a meeting with an Editorial Board, if he was called to testify in a Senate trial, you know some Republicans have raised the possibility of subpoenaing Joe Biden among many others, if he would appear, he said tonight that he would not, even if there was a subpoena issued, he would not appear.

I`m just curious politically given that congressional subpoenas, the Trump administration`s refusal to comply with them in many cases, is one of the sources of this impeachment, and certainly something you hear about a lot in public.  Is it wise for Democrats -- I know they think the idea Republicans have been calling Joe Biden is sort of a bit of trickery, but is it a good idea not to be complying or to be talking about not complying?

VANCE:  I think that we`ll hear Vice President Biden flesh out his answer a little bit more over the coming days.  I suspect that what we`ve heard so far is shorthand for this larger concept, which is that at trials the only witnesses who can testify are witnesses who have relevant testimony to offer.

Joe Biden was in no position to observe President Trump when he was involved in his escapade in Ukraine.  Joe Biden has no relevant testimony to offer on President Trump`s obstruction of Congress by refusing to comply with subpoenas for witness testimony or for documents.

So there`s really no reason for the vice president to testify.  The only reason that he would be called or that perhaps his son Hunter would be called would be if this was going to be a show trial that was trying to deflect from the president`s conduct.  Joe Biden isn`t on trial here.  Donald Trump is, and that`s where the focus should stay.

KORNACKI:  John, shifting gears a little bit, but we`re talking about President Trump being at Mar-a-Lago.  One of the folks it turns out who he`s entertained at Mar-a-Lago in the last two weeks, Eddie Gallagher, Eddie Gallagher and of course this controversy involving the Navy SEALS here, there`s now video that`s been published by The New York Times today of some Navy SEALs accusing Gallagher of just horrendous, horrific conduct.

It seems Gallagher and Trump have developed a bit of a relationship here.  Is there any indication that these revelations from these videos of what his fellow SEALs said about him is going to affect the president in how he treats and showcases Gallagher?

LEMIRE:  Certainly not yet.  Inquiries to the White House about this matter have gone unanswered so far today.  And the video clips, you`re right, are very powerful, suggesting that he was unfeeling that he would open fire on civilians and so on and he would take -- he will certainly took no second thoughts about killing and taking another life.  That`s hard to watch and these are Navy SEALs, some of them breaking down as they discuss it.

But this is also part of the president.  You know, he`s sort of grown fond of this idea, sort of like with the presidential pardon a few year or two back where suddenly he`d like delivered a whole bunch of them because he felt like it was something he could do having run through Congress and nothing at the courts and then he could use executive power.  And that he seems to have been meddling in the military justice code here and overturned some decisions on, not just on Gallagher with a number of high- profile cases over the objections of a number of defense department leaders, like really sort of worried some in the Pentagon, suggesting that not only perhaps these individual soldiers not worthy of the presidential pardon for lack of a better firm, or him stepping in and waiving some of the penalty but also just thinking that it`s sort of undermining the -- sort of the honor code in the military and perhaps the rule of law, discipline in each individual unit, undermining commanders` orders and so on.  So they`re worried about where they have -- what kind of ripple effect this could have.

In terms of Gallagher, there`s been no sign the president has appeared with some of these soldiers, he`s -- in those cases, with whom he`s intervened in the last couple weeks but none more high-profile than this, hosting Gallagher and his wife at Mar-a-Lago over the holidays and had the picture tweeted out as you`re seeing there.  And certainly, it seems to be some sort of warm camaraderie in that meeting.  At least to this point, the president doesn`t seem like he`s backing away from it.

KORNACKI:  All right, Jonathan Lemire, Beth Fouhy, Joyce Vance, thanks to all of you for being with us.

And coming up, it`s the on again, off again relationship the president hoped would end with a Nobel Peace Prize.  But the relationship with North Korea is going in a different direction as we head into the New Year.

And later, the impossible job of running for president may soon become even more difficult for one particular set of candidates, how five senators running for president plan to juggle their campaigns with Trump`s impending impeachment trial.  "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Friday night.


KORNACKI:  Despite the president`s declaration of a very good relationship with North Korea, that country may now be preparing its own fire and fury against the U.S.

"The New York Times" reports "Trump has essentially shrugged off the 13 short-range missile or rocket tests that North Korea has conducted since May."

Analysis of the latest satellite photos provided to NBC news indicate the regime may be expanding a factory linked to the production of long-range nuclear missiles.  This is the latest development in an ever evolving relationship between Donald Trump and the North Korean leader.


TRUMP:  North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.  They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

Rocketman is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

And then we fell in love, OK?  No, really.  He wrote me beautiful letters.  And they`re great letters.  We fell in love.

And we got to meet, and stepping across that line was a great honor.  A lot of progress has been made.

I`d be surprised if North Korea acted hostilely.  I have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kim Jong-un is threatening a Christmas surprise for the world.

TRUMP:  Oh, that`s OK.  We`ll find out what the surprise is and we`ll deal with it very successfully.  And maybe it`s a nice present.  Maybe it`s a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test, right?  I may get a vase.


KORNACKI:  And more recently, it looks like North Korea is rejecting Trump`s desires for another summit.  North Korea`s foreign minister advisor told state media that, "We are no longer interested in such talks that bring nothing to us."

Back with us tonight, Gordon Chang, columnist for the "Daily Beast" and author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea takes on the World."  Gordon, thanks for joining us.

Let`s take stock at the end of the year.  Have all of these missile tests, various missile tests throughout the year, you have Trump kind of looking the other way on them.  As all of this has been playing out at the end of 29 -- 2019, how has North Korea`s position changed in terms of its nuclear program this year?

GORDON CHANG, THE DAILY BEAST COLUMNIST:  North Korea has made a lot of progress both on ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.  Many people think they`ve actually doubled their arsenal of warheads.

You know, those are 13 missile or rocket tests you just talked about.  Those are violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions.  And the problem of ignoring them, which is what we did, was the Chinese said, oh, well, I`m going to violate those sanctions as well.

And what we had is both Russia and China openly violating U.N. rules.  You got the North Koreans doing it.  South Koreans want to do that.  And all of that actually undercuts President Trump`s diplomacy because a lot of money is falling into Kim`s coffers because of the violation of these rules.

KORNACKI:  So you`re talking about a program that seems to be advancing.  North Korea also said denuclearization was off the table.

The president was asked about that vow from North Korea.  Here was his response just a couple of days ago.


TRUMP:  I`d be surprised if North Korea acted hostilely.  I have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un.  I think we both want to keep it that way.  He knows I have an election coming up.  I don`t think he wants to interfere with that.  But we`ll have to see.


KORNACKI:  So, what -- given what you`re describing and if that continues to be the tone of the response from Trump, what do you make of that?  Is there anything to be gained by responding the way he is?

CHANG:  Actually, I would actually start to go after North Korea, sanction them, but more important go after the sponsors, Russia and China.

Chinese banks, for instance, have been handling North Korea`s money.  That`s not only a violation of U.N. rules, that`s a violation of the U.S. Patriot Act.  This is money laundering through this city, New York, and we`re not doing anything about it.

If President Trump wants to disarm North Korea without the use of force or even without the threat of force, all he has to do is go after those big four Chinese banks because all of the big four have been handling North Korea`s money, and we haven`t even fined those banks.

KORNACKI:  Do you see any progress, perhaps subtle progress from this approach?  Because it seems that what the president thinks here is he can develop a warm personal relationship with Kim and that that will reap dividends, maybe eventually leading -- do you see any indications of that?

CHANG:  Well, first of all, relationships don`t matter to Kim leaders.  I mean, they`re ruthlessly pragmatic.  And he could -- you know, Kim Jong-un could love President Trump.  It won`t make any difference in North Korean policy.  What Trump has been doing since the middle of May of last year is trying to create this space, as Secretary of State Pompeo has talked about, sort of make Kim feel secure enough to give up his weapons.

Well, Kim leaders don`t reciprocate gestures of friendship.  What they do is they press advantage and that`s what Kim has done.  And what trump needs to do right now is to go back and sanction the North Koreans so they don`t have money for nukes, they don`t have money for ballistic missile launches, and they don`t have money for gift politics which is the buying of loyalty from senior regime elements by giving them Mercedes, watches, other luxury items.

KORNACKI:  If the approach doesn`t change in 2020 and the steps you`re outlining here aren`t taken or anything like them aren`t taken, where do you expect North Korea will be a year from now?

CHANG:  Well, they`ll be much further down the road in their arsenals.  But I do expect them to do something provocative and I do expect President Trump actually to respond in 2020, because his policy is failing.  Everybody knows it.  And I think that he probably -- I think President Trump would find it personally popular and politically popular if he actually went after the North Koreans.  I think the American people would support him on that because the policy just isn`t working.

KORNACKI:  When you say provocative, it`s something more than, we say, 13 missile tests, something more dramatic than that?

CHANG:  Well, there`s a number of things that they can do.  They can launch another ICBM.  They could do what they threatened in September of 2017, which is to detonate a thermonuclear device in the atmosphere.  You know, every country that has had an arsenal has actually done that to prove that they`ve got the capability.  North Korea hasn`t done that.  And to sort of -- for North Korea to prove that it actually can destroy another country, it needs to do what every other country has done.  I`m not saying they`re going to do it in 2020 but eventually they will.

KORNACKI:  OK.  We will see what 2020 brings.  Gordon Chang, thank you so much for joining us.  Appreciate that.  And coming up, the candidates who want to kick Donald Trump out of the White House next year are going to have an opportunity to cast their votes early but maybe at the cost of their own campaigns, the dilemma for a number of Democrats when "The 11th Hour" continues.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you stand by your earlier statements that you wouldn`t comply if you were subpoenaed to testify in an impeachment trial before the Senate?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Correct.  And the reason I wouldn`t is because it`s all designed to deal with Trump doing what he`s done his whole life, trying to take the focus off him.  This guy violated the Constitution.  He said it in the driveway of the White House.


STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  2020 candidates are heading back on the campaign trail ahead of that looming impeachment trial in the Senate, and with just over a month now to go until the Iowa caucuses.  Five candidates who will also be serving as jurors in any trial are trying to squeeze in as much time in Iowa as they can before they are needed back in Washington.  The Des Moines Register reports today that they are coming up with creative ways to juggle their time on the trail.

Cory Booker`s campaign is planning tele-town halls and red-eye flights.  Elizabeth Warren says she`s also prepared to fly back and forth.  Amy Klobuchar told reporters, quote, she doesn`t need a lot of sleep.  Bernie Sanders plans to lean on surrogates and Michael Bennett will make a swing through Iowa before the end of the year.

Here to talk with us about this and more, Basil Smikle, former Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Party and a Democratic Strategist, and Phil Elliott, Politics Correspondent for TIME Magazine.  Thanks to both of you for being here.  Basil, I`ll start with you.  I mean, really, when you think about this, if there is a Senate trial, let`s say it starts, you know, in the early middle part of January, the Iowa caucuses are set for February 3rd, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, they have to be there --


KORNACKI:  -- as jurors and not only do they have to be present in the U.S. Senate and not on the ground in Iowa, they have to be quiet.

SMIKLE:  They have to be quiet.  So they`re not saying anything.  There`s no clips that can be taken from them just sitting there saying nothing, doing nothing, really, so yes, this does hurt a little bit.  It hurts someone like Amy Klobuchar who was building momentum after the last debate and you saw her sort of barn storm through the state in an effort to get as many counties under her belt before she has to go through this process.  But I think, you know, you talked about Bernie Sanders and others, they`re doing the right thing.

You do these tele-town halls, maybe you increase your funding for canvassing operation, you really employ and -- a robust surrogate operation if you don`t already have, but I think what this does is it benefits obviously people like Joe Biden, Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg, who were not formally part of the process.  But I also think that if you`re a candidate that`s built a socio and political movement around your candidacy like a Bernie Warren -- like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, you`re not going to lose any support in the days that you`re going to be at these hearings.  So it benefits someone like -- candidates like them who`ve really built a strong, very durable following during the cycle.

KORNACKI:  So, Phil, Basil mentions Joe Biden, leads nationally the story in Iowa over him might be a little different but obviously could benefit if the rest of these -- much of the rest of the field is stuck there in Washington.  You`ve been following Joe Biden on the trail.  Let`s first give folks a taste of that Biden message.  Here`s Biden on the campaign trail.  Take a listen.


BIDEN:  I`ve always won in places that are -- where you have moderate Republicans, Independents, Democrats.  I mean, just people who are high school degrees, who bust their neck.  It`s a -- because I believe with every fiber of my being, and I really mean it, that my dad used to say it, everybody`s entitled to be treated with dignity.  Not a joke.


KORNACKI:  Phil, that`s Joe Biden talking there to the Des Moines Register, biggest newspaper in Iowa obviously.  We see this in polls all the time, when you ask Democratic voters what they`re looking for, just the idea of electability, the idea of being able to beat Donald Trump, you see that near the top of the list, at the top of the list often, is that really the Biden message out there?  Hey, Democrats, trust me, I can beat this guy?

PHIL ELLIOTT, POLITICS CORRESPONDENT, TIME MAGAZINE:  Well, it might not be what the Biden`s explicit message is but that`s what Iowa voters are picking up.  I was out in Iowa last weekend and I talked to more than three dozen Iowa Democrats after events, and they, to a tee, told me that the main draw they had for Joe Biden wasn`t his chairman of Judiciary Committee, chairman of Senate Foreign Relations, his role in the board (ph) nomination, all this stuff that has made his career such rich fodder for his critics but it is that he alone is seen as the most dynamic to defeat Donald Trump.  And really, Democrats in Iowa, that is what they`re really looking for.

I will caution, though, that talking with very senior members of the Biden orbit, they are also not only emphasizing the electability argument but downplaying the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire.  They`re bracing for a long fight, one that may have some surprises in a couple weeks in Iowa and in New Hampshire.  Two states where Biden is running strong, but two states that don`t really look like the base of the Democratic Party.

KORNACKI:  Yes, that sets up in a very interesting conversation too.  We`ve mentioned here if the front runner were to lose both Iowa and New Hampshire, so far we haven`t seen when those states have been contested and we haven`t seen somebody lose both and win the nomination but of course there`s plenty of room for firsts, at least theoretically.

Phil, one other question too, end of the year, end of the financial quarter, we`re starting to get some fund-raising numbers.  Elizabeth Warren, for the final three months of 2019, the final quarter, you can see there, her fund-raising haul, down more than $7 million from what she raised in the third quarter, a 30 percent drop there.  That sort of coincides with what we`ve seen in the polling as well.  She was peaking around September, October, since then, she`s fallen back somewhat in this race.  How significant is that fund-raising drop for Warren?

ELLIOTT:  Well, I think the significance of that fund-raising drop is also the significance of her little bit of falter there.  She kind -- she went all in on Medicare for All, thinking it was going to be this wonderful answer for her to peel off some of the Bernie Sanders` voters.  The Bernie Sanders` voters who are all about Medicare for All, they`re still with Bernie Sanders.  There was no persuading them to come over there.

The hiccup there really started making some donors nervous that, OK, if she`s stumbling on this, if she`s trying to chase Bernie Sanders, if she`s trying to anger wall street donors whom -- the Democrat will eventually have to take some wall street money whether it`s through the campaign or the Super PAC or the DNC, there`s reason to be worried among donor circles and there`s reasons to be heartened if you`re someone like Pete Buttigieg or even Amy Klobuchar that yes, their numbers aren`t going to rival huge sums.  But man, if the Elizabeth Warren money machine starts to crumble or starts to -- those donors start double dipping with candidates, that spells a very long primary campaign that could go well past Super Tuesday.

KORNACKI:  Basil, we mentioned that idea of Joe Biden possibly losing Iowa, losing New Hampshire, then trying to win the nomination from there.  How about the idea of somebody not even contesting Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, all four of the first states and then trying to win the nomination.  That`s what Michael Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor.

Let`s throw some numbers at folks here, speaking of spending $135 million so far.  That is what Bloomberg has plopped down on this campaign.  $119 million in TV, more than $15 million in digital ads.  That is, so far, at this pace, The New York Post reports, that would be $357 million spent on TV ads by March 3rd.  $561 million by the end of April at this pace.  Can you skip the first four spend this money and be a player?

SMIKLE:  I think there`s a path for that.  You know, if you don`t -- if you decide to not contest in those early states, that has a problem for your sort of media momentum going further into the process.  But in terms of the delegate count, they`re just very few delegates available relative, say, to Super Tuesday.  California has the most delegates available in the country, and they will vote on Super Tuesday.

Texas is there as well, Massachusetts.  So there are states with big metropolitan areas, lots of delegates that are available.  And what Mike Bloomberg`s done while he was mayor of the city of New York and since he`s been mayor of the city of New York is work with mayors from big cities across the country on things like climate change, gun control, so there is -- there are relationships that he`s had that he will lean on as he goes forward in this process.  History is replete with candidates with a lot of money that don`t win because message has to go before money.  But it`s still -- he can still be somewhat of a factor even after those -- missing those four states.

KORNACKI:  Yes.  It`s the world`s most expensive political science experiment, that`s when you`re looking at it.  Basil Smikle, Phillip Elliott, thank you both for joining us.  Appreciate that.

And coming up, one number that could determine Trump`s re-election chances when "The 11th Hour" continues.


KORNACKI:  Welcome back.  We`ve mentioned it.  Donald Trump has been impeached.  Donald Trump is running for re-election.  An impeached President seeking a second term.  We`re in somewhat uncharted territories here -- uncharted territory here, but what does the political landscape look like for Donald Trump as he tries to win a second term?

One way of looking this -- looking at this as we close out 2019, move to 2020, take a look at the President`s approval rating right now.  So Donald Trump, Gallup, you know, they track these things across time.  Donald Trump`s approval rating at the end of 2019 in the Gallup poll is 45 percent.  Now, 45 percent for Trump, that`s actually about as well as he`s been doing as President.  So, yes, he`s been impeached.

The bottom certainly hasn`t fallen off from his polling, sitting there at 45 percent.  But let`s compare that 45 percent.  Let`s compare Trump`s approval rating, heading into his re-election year, with where past presidents were heading into their re-election years.  Same point for past presidents, so take a look at this most recent predecessor.  His predecessor, Barack Obama, heading into 2012, end of 2011.  In the Gallup poll, Barack Obama was also sitting at 45 percent.

Now, in his re-election year in 2012, Obama was able to move that number up.  He was able to move it into the high 40s, even sometimes crack 50 percent, 51 percent in the approval rating.  And of course Obama got re- elected.  So, we came into the year at 45 percent.  He was able to move it up in his re-election year.

George W. Bush, he was sitting at 63 percent at the end of 2003.  Now remember, that Saddam Hussein had just been captured at the end of 2003 so there was a bit of a jump there but Bush was able to keep that approval rating right around 50 percent, often a couple points over 50 percent through 2004, got himself re-elected.  You look at Bill Clinton, he was sitting at 51 percent.  There`s a big comeback for Bill Clinton in 1995 and `96.  That number continued to rise for him in 1996.  He won re-election easily.

George H.W. Bush, he was at 50 percent at this point and that was 50 percent and dropping like a rock.  He`d been at 80 percent just a few months earlier after the first Gulf War.  He ended up as low in his re- election year, get this.  He was as low as 29 percent in 1992 and of course Bush lost in `92.

Reagan was 54 percent and that was going north.  And Jimmy Carter, he was 54 percent.  The embassy siege had just happened.  His numbers, like Bush`s, dropped very severely in his re-election year.  So Carter lost, Bush lost, both of them had the floor fall out in their re-election year.  Some of these others were able to win re-election.  Their numbers were able to move up in their re-election year.

Here`s the thing.  We`re talking about all this polling movement.  Trump`s 45 percent.  Look at this.  This is the trajectory, this is the trend line of his polling.  His entire presidency here, absolute low point was 35 percent.  Absolute high point was 46 percent.  Sits at 45 percent right now.

This is the most stable presidency in terms of the polling, in terms of the approval rating, this is the most stable polling presidency we have seen in modern times and it raises a question for Trump.  Is his number going to drop like Carter`s, like Bush`s did in `92?  The trend line tells you that`s unlikely, but is he going to be able to move it up to 50 percent, 51 percent, 52 percent like Obama was able to do in 2012, like Bill Clinton was able to do?  That could also be a severe challenge for Donald Trump.  45 percent, 46 percent, maybe as good as it gets for him.  Can you win with that?  It would have to be real tight like it was in 2016.

Coming up, how a shortage in new polling plays into what we know and really what we don`t know about the state of the Democratic race when "The 11th Hour" continues.


KORNACKI:  There are only 38 days left now until the Iowa caucuses and the latest RealClearPolitics polling average puts Pete Buttigieg in the lead with 22 percent.  Bernie Sanders right behind him with 20 percent.  Joe Biden right there at 19 percent.  And Elizabeth Warren at 16 percent.  Everyone else in single digits.  But there is a catch to all of these.

Since the beginning of December, there have been only two polls released in the state of Iowa.  And neither one of those polls is a DNC debate qualifying poll.  It`s a similar story in New Hampshire.  There`s only been one poll released this entire month.  Nevada hasn`t seen a single poll and South Carolina has only had one come out as well.  Four total polls from all four combined early battleground states the month of December.

Jeremy Peters, Political Reporter of The New York Times joins us now live from Des Moines to talk about this.  Jeremy, this is -- it`s a throw back.  It`s like it`s 1976 again and we`re trying to figure out if Jimmy Carter is catching fire in the cornfields of Iowa.  Tell us without many polls to look at here, what does it feel like on the ground in Iowa?

JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  I think it`s interesting, right?  You make a good point why there haven`t been more of these state level polls because we`re really not living in an era right now where we`re running national elections.  I mean, this election is going to come down to a handful of states, a few battleground states and the nominees who advance to the general election, where the battleground states matter will need to get through places like Iowa.

And right now the polls in Iowa are not telling us very much.  I will say though that the polls in Iowa have never really been useful for the horse race element of it very far out.  I mean, we know that this is a place where they love a late-surging candidate.  I mean, the person who is in the lead in August, September, October often is not the winner of the caucuses.  You see people like Ted Cruz, John Kerry, all making their late breaks and becoming winners of the Iowa caucuses.

So, I mean, it`s an interesting measure, these polls here in terms of what they kind of tell you about the mood of Iowa voters and what they prefer.  But they like to change their minds a lot.  And right now I don`t think any one of the campaigns that I`m talking to on the Democratic side would bet that they are in the poll position here to win the caucuses.

KORNACKI:  Yes.  I mean, you`re describing volatility, some famous examples of volatility there and sort of scrambled races that move dramatically in the final days.  We`ve certainly seen that as you say out there in Iowa.  Is that what you`re picking up talking to Democratic voters out there, talking to Democrats out there?  Are you sensing that they`re not really dug in with one particular candidate or the other, they really are shopping around open to different possibilities?

PETERS:  Well, it depends on the constituency, right, because if you`re talking about Bernie voters, of course, they are very, very dug in.  You know, if you`re talking about people who were considering voting for Amy Klobuchar, you know, they`re not so sure.  My colleagues in the Times the other day had a piece about, right now, the fight between -- I`m sorry, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg over these centrist voters and how Klobuchar is really trying to make the sale.  And she would be the classic example of somebody who surges late and surprises in Iowa because she`s been steadily creeping up in the polls.

Now, you know, what becomes of her ultimately we can`t say.  But I do think the thing that you hear most, and this is consistent with national polling as well, is that Democratic voters want somebody who can beat Trump.  And right now that doesn`t bode very well, I think, for a candidate like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.

KORNACKI:  It`s interesting too, you know, a couple weeks out here trying to figure out what it is going to be.  You mentioned electability.  Are there any other major variables you look at when you see the landscape in Iowa, a couple weeks to go before the caucuses, that could sway the outcome here?

PETERS:  Well, I think you need to look at the, you know, the stability of the economy.  Right now, look, today, we had the stock market closing at another record high.  I think, you know, the question from most people when it comes to looking at the general election probably is not going to be, am I so much better off than I was four years ago?  It`s am I better off enough?

And I think for most people, they feel like they are better off enough.  Not great.  But they`ve got maybe a few extra bucks in their pocket.  And, you know, I think that that ultimately affects how they look at Trump, and it explains why he is so strong in these battleground poll states that we`ve seen so far.

KORNACKI:  Jeremy Peters, thank you as always for your time.

And coming up, a look behind the scenes here at 30 Rock when "The 11th Hour" continues.


KORNACKI:  That is our broadcast for tonight.  But first we want to show you some of the people who bring you this program.  On behalf of Brian, the producers and crew, thank you for being with us tonight, and good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END